I got a chance to speak with the three amazing people behind She.Lace, a feminist-based sneaker blog based in Toronto. Together, Jamila Husbands, Kiah Welsh, and Travis Pereira make our friendly northern neighbor’s voice for sneaker culture, art, and women’s empowerment. With so much style and grace in a sneaker blog, I wanted to know more about the brand and it’s powerful impact on the culture.
1. What was the defining moment, if any, when you three came together and decided to create she.lace?
JH: Travis has a huge sneaker collection, and when we were in university, he would always come with something totally different everyday. So I started going shopping with him, and I didn’t really see myself represented in these shops. Going into these sneaker boutiques, it was all catered towards men. There are no urban wear for the girls, no sneakers dedicated for the females. And then we just came together and started discussing it as a group. For myself, I like photography; it’s something I want to get in to more, so it was also a way to push the photography.
KW: I was always into to digital and social type stuff, so this was a way for me to get the skills to getting the brand out there, and I’m also interested in sneakers. We all bring something different to the table, and so we just got together and said, “let’s do this.”
TP: I don’t remember who sent this message to who, I think it was Jamila who sent a message to me, and it was about a celebrity, I think Gabrielle Union, opening up a women’s only sneaker boutique. It may not have just been a sneaker boutique, but a store that had shoes, designated just for women. That was like wow, because it’s not necessarily reinventing the wheel, as I would like to imagine there are places like that in the States that aren’t as widely known or publicized. But there definitely is one that Kiah brought to my attention, in Europe, I believe in The Netherlands, I think it is called Girls Only or something like that. But the point is, there have been things like that in existence, but that Eureka moment was when we heard Gabrielle Union was opening up a store for women. I don’t know if it actually came to fruition, but it was like “Hm, yeah, that’s an issue that we have all embraced and encountered on countless occasions, let’s put the spotlight on it and highlight the lack of offerings towards women in the sneaker world.
2. Travis, I remember in your bio, you said you would be walking out of a store with sneakers, and Jamila would help you carry your bags because she wasn’t walking out with any. And one of your things was that you want to get to a point where Jamila and Kiah aren’t carrying your bags, but rather their own. What made you cognizant or aware of that? I feel like most guys, including myself, wouldn’t notice that fact; the idea that I’m walking away with some heat, but my lady friend isn’t, because there wasn’t as large an assortment for her as there was for me.
TP: Good question. Not to be too grandiose or to set myself up as the most conscientious guy, but for me, it was blatantly obvious that time and time again, I had a smorgasbord to choose from, whether I liked it or not, or anything in between, it was there for me. And then, there is like a slither of a very terrible selection for women. But for me, I’ve always had an affinity for sneakers that are very out of the box; very abstract. I like things with different things, different materials and textures. Some of these, I would argue, to the untrained eye, would look very feminine, or look like they are marketed towards women as opposed to men. I actually have at least ten sneakers that I can think of off-hand that are women sneakers that came in my size, and that I was fortunate enough to get a pair in. So I think that is what it was too, where I realized that those hard and fast lines that people like to draw about what a sneaker should look like in terms of who they’re being marketed towards, I always defied that. As a male, who has an abundance of sneaker options, I naturally moved towards things that have pastel colors, and that are bright and have prints, whether they are floral or otherwise. Why shouldn’t women, even if they don’t want those kind of stereotypical sneakers, why shouldn’t they have lots of women sneakers? I have a whole assortment of men’s sneakers to choose from, and then I can still get a bunch of women’s sneakers that I like, but the reverse isn’t the case. I just always found that weird, because I felt like I was an anomaly in that sense, where I get the sneakers that aren’t what the quintessential man likes, so what about the female that doesn’t like the quintessential female offerings? So that’s where I come from. I just took my preferences and what I liked, and said that the reversed as well. So give me more of those bright, floral kind of shoes, and give women more of the ones that aren’t necessarily like that, and more in terms of quality.
3. I’m glad you touched on that, because I wrote an article on my blog advocating for men to cop women’s sneakers. So, I’m curious as to how the ladies feel about that? The fact that it’s a little more difficult for you all to get sneakers, and here we guys are copping your heat.
KW: I know, right? Well, I can give you a really good example. When the Satin Shattered Backboard came out, a lot of the guys wanted that sneaker, and I was like “could y’all leave it to us?” I appreciate Travis taking an appreciation in women’s sneakers, but can’t we have these to ourselves?
TP: I shouldn’t be allowed to do this. These are the Reimagined 1’s for women only. Supposedly. But, here I am, with one of my favorite pickups of the year. So I think that answers the question: it shouldn’t be allowed. However, maybe I’m a hypocrite, because I’m very happy it is allowed.
KW: It’s frustrating.
4. I can imagine. So to take it back to she.lace, when you three first started it, being in the sneaker head community, which is already small and niche as it is, and being that female and feminist voice in the culture, were there any difficulties or struggles in trying to create that voice?
KW: Actually, when we first started, we had a lot of support. It started with friends and family, and as time progressed, a lot of people became supportive. And it was interesting to see people online how they were connecting with us, and the stories that we were bringing out to them. I don’t know if it was surprising, but it was definitely cool to see people interested in what we are interested in. And it’s not a small community, it’s a big one. So it was interesting.
TP: I think what’s inspiring about she.lace, and the amount of support that we have received is that you become enamored with not only what it is that you’re trying to do, but more importantly, being reaffirmed by people from all walks of life that like it. We really are wholeheartedly gung-ho about this concept, and that’s not to say that it is fool proof, or that it is something that can be exempt from criticism, but I feel like it’s not just about the sneakers. It’s also about women’s empowerment, the most important pillar for us. And it’s not disingenuous; we honestly have a push for that which is reflected in our content. I think it made it so that if someone did have an issue with the sneakers part, it can be reconciled with the art, and if there is an issue with the art, we can rectify with the women’s empowerment element. So it’s kind of like a threefold approach that I think naturally has a little bit of something for everyone, and us finding a way to fuse those three together makes it so that you’re going to get a lot of support. And we do get a lot of support. There have been people that we featured, people that reach out to us, who are not self-proclaimed sneaker heads or enthusiasts, but they like the idea of being empowered in their sneakers or whatever way they do it. So I almost feel as though there was a yearning, a kind of thirst for this kind of voice, instead of “hey, we’re here, and we like sneakers too, so recognize us.” So I don’t think anyone from any part of the spectrum had anything but good things and support and praise for us, which is a good thing.
KW: It’s cool too, because for example, after we did the CBC interview, a woman reached out to us and said that she had problems finding sneakers in her size, too, and just going through the difficulties that she goes through, so it was really cool to be able to relate with other people.
5. When you three created she.lace, and when you all are writing and creating content, who are you writing for? Travis, you talked on diversity, and you all are three Black Canadians, so who would be she.lace’s intended audience?
JH: For me, in terms of the photos I produce, it’s for young women, because I’m all about representation. Like you said, I’m a Black female, I grew up always looking for myself represented in anything I consumed. Whether it be music, tv, movies, books, whatever, I’m looking for someone who looks like me. I’m looking for a woman, and I’m looking for a Black woman. So, for me, I’m an educator, a teacher, and I think it is very important to create positive representation for young women to see so they can feel like their dreams and goals are attainable. That’s part of the goal for us; to create positive representations so that girls can feel that whatever their dreams are, they’re attainable.
TP: When I’m writing, yes, we are writing for people that look and sound like us, young women that look and sound like the ladies, however, I also do write for the nondescript middle aged white man that doesn’t even know we exist. Not for validation, or to say “we’re great too, we seek for you to understand us and know that we can do great things,” it’s more so to occupy that space. I find that whether it has to do with women’s empowerment or art, or sneakers, by and large, it’s run by those individuals that don’t look and sound like us, and don’t have an inkling of knowledge of what we’re about, and what we’re trying to do, so I seek to not convince them that we’re great, but to show them that we’re here. Not to change your mindset, but to put it in your face to the point where you can’t ignore it. So I write for them, to show them that there are great, wonderful, diverse women doing phenomenal things. And they’re wearing your sneakers, so you should probably market towards them.
KW: I would say our audience is females of all walks of life. They can be young, they can be old, and we try to showcase that on our feed. We try to say that nobody is left out because women love sneakers and you can be empowered at any age. It’s not just someone who’s young in their 20’s. It can be someone who’s six to someone who’s in their 80’s. So that’s who we try to focus on.
6. So, when you think of Nike, who has all kinds of events and initiatives for women here in the States, like The Force Is Female and the SneakHer Society, do you see the same kinds of events and initiatives in Canada, or Toronto?
KW: Yes, we have things like that over here. When The Force Is Female campaign came out, they had a popup at Nordstrom, and anyone could come in, but mostly women were coming in and designing their own shoe.
TP: Slowly but surely you’re starting to see a concerted effort, not just from sneaker companies, but you’re definitely starting to see Toronto being recognized on the international platform, along the likes of New York, and LA, and Paris and Tokyo, and so on. I feel like when organizations like Nike do that, I feel like Toronto is no longer being missed, and it’s a city that’s definitely on the radar. We’re one of three cities in North America with a Jordan store, we have an Adidas flagship store, Toronto is starting to be recognized as a lightning rod. So whenever you see those campaigns, we get a chance to experience it as well, which is pretty cool.
7. We’re starting to see the “Shrink And Pink” Era go away a little bit, and instead see more women, and in particular, women of color emerge in the culture and market. Take Alaeli May, Serena Williams, and Rihanna. Where do you see this trend headed?
JH: I like to see that more women being thought of, and especially when it comes to designing shoes and stuff like that. For instance, Reebok has a campaign right now called Being More Human, and they have a lot of women represented and putting us forward, so I like to see it. I’d definitely like to see more female designers, but I think they’re making a positive step forward. It’s cool.
TP: I see it going nowhere but up. I see it in expansion and delving a little bit deeper. Your brand is personality, and your personality has a lot of value. When you see these sneakers, these women who are able to collaborate and/or design them have obviously done great things, but it is also because of their personality. When I see Rihanna’s sneakers, I definitely see Rihanna when I see those sneakers. Same with the Aleali’s, and I’d even go as far back as the Vashtie Jordan II. Those are definitely personality based sneakers, and it may be coincidental that they also look a certain way in terms of the color, and the materials, and the patterns, but it’s really the personality that is being sold. And who has more personality, and more variance and more different versions of themselves than women? I think that is what is being focused on, and if that is the case, I think you are going to see an increase in collaborations when it comes to women and sneakers. And good ones, too.
KW: You’re now starting to see campaigns with women. Before, you weren’t seeing that so much, so to see that we’re making progress is good. I would like to see more options, but one step at a time.
JH: I just hope it’s not a phase.
8. Touching on things being a phase, these last two years at the least have been about women’s rights and empowerment, and the movement is at the strongest it’s ever been. How have you been able to utilize this movement with she.lace? It lines up with your vision and ideas, how has that worked to your advantage?
TP: I think this interview right here is a prime example of how it has worked out for us. It’s usually a lot of outward-in, which is really cool, because it’s great feedback. It’s only bolstered our profile, but in terms of taking advantage of it, it’s not something we’ve really intended to do because it is already entrenched in our (wo)mandate. It’s kind of like if you buy a car, obviously you’ve seen that car on the road before, but now you’re gonna notice it around a lot more because you’re trained to see it now that you have it. Everything has been organic for us, and obviously with the movement, we’re going to be beneficiaries of that. But it’s like Jamila said, hopefully it’s not a phase. The fact that it’s being more tapped into is great for us, it’s opened more eyes to us, however, we’ve been here. Even if it’s no longer about women’s empowerment, we’re still gonna be here.
9. I know you’ve touched on this a little bit before, but what are the inspirations behind she.lace? Women’s empowerment is a core piece, but what are some of the other things that drive she.lace?
KW: Right now I’m a journalist, so I love learning about other people’s stories. So this for me is a great way to learn more about the individuals behind the sneakers, and how they feel empowered. You as an individual may think that you are going through something alone, but then there is someone who is also going through that same thing. So on she.lace, we have these people that we feature that might be doing or going through something, and someone reading our blog might relate to that situation. So she.lace as a whole wants to encourage people, have people support one another and let others know that they aren’t the only ones going through certain things. You can overcome it. So for me, that’s the driving force; to show that you can get through your situation.
JH: I agree with Kiah. Meeting these women, and hearing their stories is so inspirational and they can influence you. Just the other day we went to Footaction for Reebok, and I met a girl there. Just hearing her story, having so much in common and talking about designers, and other things we were interested in was inspiring, along with even talking to the women that we shoot and feature.
10. I like that. So what are the future plans of she.lace, if you can divulge?
TP: We’re still going to have the blog and be present on social media, but we really want to take a quantum leap and get into actual events that are directly immersed in women’s empowerment, whether that happens to be helping out at shelters or things of that sort. Hopefully we can do something before school time, as it would be wonderful to do a shoe drive or something along those lines, so just really actively showing that it is more than just blogs and things like that. We also want to try to connect with brands or organizations that would be willing to sponsor us and help us out so that we can do things like that.
11. Now let’s keep it fun. What is your favorite sneaker in your rotation right now?
KW: I really like Jordan I’s, but I have a lot of favorites. I just love the Jordan I silhouette and the way it fits, and it goes with practically any outfit. So I’m loving that.
JH: I don’t know. Everything is on a rotation, it’s kind of like your mood.
TP: This summer, I’ve prided myself on getting through and wearing my unworn Foams and Air Forces. My favorite sneaker right now is the Foamposite Galaxy 2.0, just because of how it’s peaked. Nobody cared for Foamposites, and I was always a huge advocate of the Foamposite. But my favorite sneaker of all time is the Air Force 1, in terms of silhouette, but in terms of art and what it did for the game, is the Nike SB collection.